What Fats Can You Eat on a Mediterranean Diet?

Isaac K

Over the past few years, nutrition experts have all agreed that dietary fats make an essential part of healthy eating. Low or moderate amounts of fat, as utilized by the Mediterranean diet, are essential for powering your body and ensuring optimum cell growth.

That wasn’t the case in the 1980s when low-fat and fat-free products became such a craze. Of course, the people in the Mediterranean region carried on as usual because their diets contained moderate amounts of fat -most of which they obtained from healthy sources including extra virgin olive oil, almonds, omega-3 fatty acids, nuts, and seeds.

Dietary fat also helps your body absorb nutrients and produce important hormones. That said, let’s look at the different types of fats and what you can have with your Mediterranean diet meal plan.

Types of Fat

Trans Fats and Saturated Fats

Under normal circumstances, your body makes its fat by utilizing the calories you consume. Some fats, however, are contained in food ingredients. These are known as dietary fat – macronutrients that give the body energy.

Some dietary fats are high in calories and may make you gain more weight rapidly. These fats should be eliminated in a Mediterranean diet. This is recommended as a way of enhancing healthy living and reducing the risks of cardiac diseases.

Currently, there are lots of different studies that explore the benefits of dietary fat. The topic is somewhat controversial and more developments are yet to be published. Nevertheless, all the bad hype you probably have heard about bad fats comes from the harmful dietary fats. The two potentially harmful fats are:

1. Trans Fats

Trans fats are a byproduct of the hydrogenation process – a procedure that solidifies healthy oils. This process prevents oils from being rancid and is often labeled as “partially hydrogenated oil” on the food ingredients list.

These types of fats were initially found in vegetable shortenings or margarine (solid). But recent industrial developments have seen the fats make their way to processed foods including pastries and French fries, to say the least. They are also found in cookies, popcorn cooked in a microwave, crackers, and icings.

Too many trans fats in your body reduce the amount of good HDL cholesterol while promoting oxidized low-density lipoprotein LDL cholesterol.

The fats are also associated with inflammations linked to cardiac diseases and other issues as well as insulin resistance.

Even in negligible amounts, trans fat harms your health by 2 percent of the daily consumed calories, and the risk of developing heart disease increases by more than 20 percent. Eliminating trans fats is key to protecting health and saving lives.

2. Saturated Fats

Saturated fats are very common in American diets. They are available in a solid state at room temperature. The name ‘saturated’ is a hint of their distinguishing characteristic where each carbon atom holds as many hydrogen atoms as possible. The fat is saturated hydrogen.

Compared to trans fats, saturated fats are not that bad, but if consumed in large quantities, they are a cause for concern. They can be detrimental to a person’s health if taken in copious amounts.

It is, however, unclear whether saturated fats fall under the bad or the good. Some studies, on one hand, suggest that high consumption of saturated fats may lead to heart disease, diabetes, and even stroke.

Too many saturated fats elevate the total cholesterol in the body bringing an imbalance between HDL and LDL cholesterol. This causes the vasoconstriction of the arteries due to the deposition of fats.

The narrowing of the arteries forces a person’s heart to work harder while pumping blood across the body, hence the risk of heart disease.

On the other hand, other studies have failed to determine the link between saturated fats and the risk of cardiovascular disease. They claim there isn’t sufficient evidence to prove that saturated fats cause heart disease.

Replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats such as vegetable oils s ideal for reducing the risks of cardiac problems, but the opposite could happen if one replaces the fats with highly processed carbs.

Monounsaturated Vs. Polyunsaturated Fats

These types of fats, commonly known as unsaturated fats are good for your health. They carry fewer hydrogen bonds and are in a liquid state at room temperature.

Several health bodies urge people to utilize these types of fats or consume enough food containing unsaturated fats.

The Mediterranean diet uses olive oil as the primary source of fat. Olive oil, which contains linolenic acid, makes one source of unsaturated fats. Other sources of these types of fats include fish, vegetables, seeds, and nuts.

Unsaturated fats are largely categorized into two:

1. Monounsaturated Fats

A good example of monosaturated fats is olive oil. It is one of the healthiest fats ever. Unlike saturated fats, monounsaturated fats have only a single pair of carbon molecules linked together by a double bond. Thus, it has fewer hydrogen atoms.

Sunflower oil, high-oleic safflower, the majority of the available nuts, avocados, canola oil, and peanut oil are other sources of monounsaturated fats.

There is no daily recommendation for the intake of monounsaturated fats. Health experts, however, recommend that one uses as much as they can in tandem with the other type of good fats – the polyunsaturated fats.

Nuts being good sources of unsaturated fats should be consumed in moderation at least once a day.

2. Polyunsaturated Fats

Polyunsaturated fats are other essential fats necessary for the body’s optimal function. They help the body construct cell membranes apart from protecting the nerves. It also helps in blood clotting, inflammations, and muscle movement.

Unlike monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats carry over two or more pairs of carbon linked with double bonds.

Furthermore, these fats are split into omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. The numbers in these fatty acids refer to the distance of the carbon chain and its first double bond. The two types of polyunsaturated fats offer beneficial effects on a person’s health.

Foods with polyunsaturated fats include corn oils, safflower oil, fish–sardines, salmon, and mackerel – unhydrogenated soybean oil, sunflower oil, and some nuts such as walnuts, flaxseeds as well as canola oil.

According to many dietary guidelines, one should get at least 25 to 30 percent of the number of calories they consume from fats, specifically monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats.

What this means is that it is time to switch from saturated fats to good fats or simply make the Mediterranean diet part of your daily routine.

The Mediterranean Diet and Omega 3 Fatty Acids

As noted, the Mediterranean diet follows a recipe following a group of foods rich in fatty acids. Fish, which makes a huge part of the diet contains omega-3 fatty acids – a type of good fat.

Fatty fish such as mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, and salmon are rich sources of fatty acids.

Omega-3 fatty acids have a wide range of benefits including improved brain function, improved immune system, and better cognitive ability.

There are also numerous studies supporting the fact that the fatty acids lower triglyceride levels and stabilize blood pressure, which protects against potentially lethal heart problems.

These fatty acids, like monosaturated fats, fight inflammations, decrease liver fat, and reduce weight as the waist size. It has also been linked with other medical conditions like asthma and dementia.

The Mediterranean diet recommends fish consumption at most two times a week regardless of whether it is fresh or water-packed. And if you have to fry them, at least use a small amount of canola oil, otherwise, have your fish grilled. You will get enough of the omega-3 acids if you follow this diet plan.

It is bad news for those who follow the American diet. It doesn’t contain enough of these fatty acids. Most of them, however, contain polyunsaturated fats – omega-6 fatty acids.

It is important, nonetheless, to find a balance between the two fatty acids. That is if you want the body to reap all the benefits of fatty acids. The correct ratio is 4:1, not the 10:1 found in many Western meals.

What about when dining out? Some will ask. How do you avoid these fats or adhere to the Mediterranean diet plan?

Dining Out on the Mediterranean Diet

The beauty of the Mediterranean diet is that finding a meal that fits your preference when you want to dine out is not so much of a hassle.

A majority of restaurants out there may have all the deliciously-looking meals you’ve always wanted to try, but you should be mindful.

It all starts with the appetizers. If the urge is too strong, share between two or three people to ensure that your potion is small.

As far as dining out is concerned, do the following:

  • Steer clear of fried appetizers. Some, are, however, mixed with salads. Try those. While at it, consider steamed seafood, grilled veggies, or soup made from the broth.

For entrées:

  • Avoid fried foods and go with those that are listed on the Mediterranean diet food list. Also, if you are unsure about a meal, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask that your sauces be switched with the ones that you prefer.
  • Also, ask for foods with fish or seafood as the main dish and insist that they fry the food in extra virgin olive oil. For the Mediterranean diet vegetarian option, eat something with vegetables aplenty. Without fatty sauces, you may order steamed vegetables.
  • Only eat whole grain bread with olive oil – not butter.
  • Don’t finish the entire plate. Develop a habit of being in charge. Leave half of the entrée and bring it home for use the next day. You can even have the restaurant take half of your meal and pack it in a takeout bag.
  • Eat your food slowly. Take your time, and when you feel that you’ve had enough, ask that the plate be taken away even with some food in it.

What about desserts?

The best type of dessert you can have at a restaurant is the one mixed with fruit salad. If you are a group of people and you need a sweet dessert, order it for the whole table, then have only a few slices of it.

As for beverages, go with tea, coffee, diet sugar-free beverages, water, and most of the non-caloric types. Do not be tempted to have more alcohol. Even a 6-ounce glass of wine contains up to 120 calories, which can spike up the sugar levels in the body.

Bottom Line:

That said, adhering to the Mediterranean diet plan is not hard at all. If you know what you want and what to look for, it all comes down to you, your confidence, and how you are willing to see it through. Your dedication to substituting unhealthy fats with healthy ones is a fundamental step in the right direction.

The most challenging aspect is being tempted to slip back to your old favorites. Depending on whether you are sticking to the mostly Mediterranean or strictly Mediterranean diet, you might have room to indulge yourself in what you miss.

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